Trying out some of the macro/close-up features of my new Nikon D-5100. Still getting the hang of it.


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Trying out some of the close-up features of my new Nikon D-5100. Still getting the hang of it.

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The End (for now)

Salamat malam everybody.  I’m back in the United States, specifically in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California.  It, like Tado, is a very special place with a very unique kind of people much different to where I’m from, so in that sense I still definitely feel like I’m on the road.  However, most of the creature comforts I’ve been looking for can be found here in the home of my mentor and ECO-SEA director Dr. Jeanine Pfeiffer.

The past two weeks were a lot of fun.  I spent the first in Labuan Bajo, entering data, taking care of business at home, hanging out with the Swisscontact staff and exploring Komodo National Park, which is a very cool area for diving and the biggest draw for tourists in the area.  The second week was spent on a trip up to Thailand, where I met up with several of my friends from Dartouth.  Both were a lot of fun, and a great reward for three weeks of work in Flores.

My time here in Ft. Bragg is intended to give me a chance to offload the data that I spent a lot of time processing in Indonesia, and talk about where we (Dr. Pfeiffer, the Tado research staff, and I) go from here.  Academic projects being what they are, we aren’t entirely sure what the end result will be; however, we have made a deal to finish whatever academic “result” we are planning to collaborate on by this time next year (March 2011), if not sooner.  This is important because it also coincides with the time at which I will be graduating from college (!!!).

The decision to not generate some sort of a result immediately comes from a number of different factors.

First, there is the issue of time.  Although we are spending a lot of time together right now, more is needed to produce a quality result.  I am planning to return back to Massachusetts on Tuesday, and in the meantime it’d be really difficult for us to generate any sort of finished product worth shaking an academic stick at.  However, since I would like some sort of an outcome (besides this blog), and since the minimum amount of time I know I want to continue being a professional student is until June 2011, this gives me a window within which to collaborate with Dr. Pfeiffer on this project.

The other thing is that in terms of my major track, I have been thinking for a while about pursuing some kind of an honors thesis in Geography, which at Dartmouth requires me to write at least 70 pages and jump through a number of other hoops as well.  However, I think this would be a great body of work from which to start a thesis, and am looking forward to talking with the staff back at Dartmouth about it.

So, for the time being, I’m signing off.  I will probably post updates about our findings as they come, and report any new developments with Tado that I hear about.  Hopefully in one years time I’ll have a link to a paper, or a thesis, or something else for you.  Until then,


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Last night in Tado

In the last week of my internship, I found myself taking stock of everything I’d experienced so far, and seeing what I had left to improve upon.  Certainly my Bahasa Indonesia was coming along, but not perfect, reaching a point where I began to realize that unless I continued to immerse myself in it it would not get any better.  I made an effort to stop by a few neighbors’ houses, bringing biscuits (as Jeanine recommended) and asking if I might be able to practice with them.   People were generally receptive, and I had a great conversation with our neighbor Joseph that started with religion and ended with eye color.  The difficult thing about learning in the village, though, is that people are way more interested in learning English than I am with B.I.  Here, English is a trade skill, a real sign of higher education that everyone from the primary school kids to the head of the village wants to practice with me.

Everybody, it seems, except Ameh.  He’s totally cool to just speak B.I. to me, and sometimes just mutters in Manggarai whenever I’m around.  I still like him though; in some ways he kind of reminds me of my dad.  He has a good sense of humor, although (unlike my dad) when he laughs you can tell he’s been smoking like a chimney for most of his life.

Anyways, with the coffee and the cinnamon packed up, and the bulk of the old data entered into my computer (now running a trial version of FileMaker Pro), I began to make plans to leave.  I decided to bring Eddy along with me, since I wanted to buy him a new pair of shoes (his got wrecked on the trek to Waerabo) and take him out for a drink, he being probably my single greatest source of entertainment for the whole time I had been in Tado.

On the very last night, we had a goodbye dinner that was real fun; lots of food, and afterwards singing.   Many neighbors stopped by.

The Last Supper

In the songs that followed, I was extremely fortunate to hear the community get together and sing a little bit.  Manggarai singing is something that I had experienced in Waerabo, and thought that I had seen the highest and most magical form of it there within a circle of three men.  However, with Eddy playing guitar, and Adol leading in most of the verses, song after song came streaming out of the two men.  The best part, though, was when the women, and then the children started joining in; I was totally helpless, barely being able to comprehend any Bahasa Indonesia, let alone Manggarai, let alone singing.  So I had to just listen.

It really made me think about how special singing is, especially in most rare form, that of lots of people singing together and meaning it.  I’m reminded of the songs that I sing with my rugby teammates after games, the Christmas carols I sing with friends and family at a certain time of year, the alma mater at my college, a national anthem, and the rock music I listened to in high school with my best friends from home.  People singing, with little or no instruments, together, and meaning it.  It’s a pretty special thing.

Hard to top that one.  I went to bed soon afterwards, and slept like a baby.

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Life around the house (and: how to roast coffee)

Safely back in Tado, I found I had some time to chill out after a long bout of Floresian transit.  Yeremias and the family were kind of indifferent about the cinnamon and coffee (like “so why do you want to carry this all the way back to America again?  You know it’s just coffee, right?”), but they had some recommendations as to how to prepare it.  As I tell the story of that, I feel like it’d also be a good idea to introduce the various family members, since I’ve been spending most of my time living and interacting with them while I’ve been in Flores.

Ame, Tua Golo bea Tado

At the head of the household is Ame.   He is the patriarch of the entire extended Tado clan, and has a number of customary responsibilities that I don’t quite understand the breadth and depth of completely.  However, as far as a day-to-day existence goes, Ame mostly pads around the house, reads whatever BI book of mine he finds interesting (including the dictionary), eats regularly, takes car of yard work, and generally lives the life of a stately retiree.  Every once and a while he will be accompanied by a number of young men, who will sit and smoke cigarettes with him under what I’ve been calling the Cell Phone Tree (because that’s where I get the best signal to make calls to the US), discussing what Jeanine has informed me are probably any number of land use or family disputes.   While Ame doesn’t have universal power or anything, I think he does call the shots as far as a lot of family relationships are concerned, and it’s very clear that a lot of people in the village respect him, and people as far away as Labuan Bajo will nod in recognition when I tell them I’m living in his house in Pusut.

Ame with baby Reno

Ah yes, baby Reno.  If Ame is the chief of the village and extended Tado clan, Reno is the chief of the “rumah”, or household.  Through some happy accident, Reno has learned how to cry like no other baby I’ve ever encountered before, and can bring the entire household’s operations to a grinding halt just by being denied simple line-of-sight access to his mom.  When I first met Reno,  I thought he belonged to Yeremias, or perhaps someone younger; however, I learned later that Reno is in fact Yeremias’ brother, and Ame’s youngest son by his new wife, Bibi.  Ame was married before, and his first wife, Yeremias’ mother, died within the past few years.

Ame takes care of Reno a lot, since he and Reno both spend a lot of time in the same space not doing much in particular, while Bibi and Leni take care of household work and Yeremias generally tends to the “sawah” or rice fields.  It’s an interesting parallel to watch the interaction between a man in his later years and a boy in his youngest years because they get fascinated with a lot of the same stuff.  While I’d hardly say that Ame is in his “second infancy”, it is kind of fun to watch the two of them putter around.  Reno’s definitely got more energy (particularly when crying) and it’s interesting to watch the Indonesian method of young child-rearing.  Diapers are nonexistant here, probably because they’re wasteful and a pain to maintain, so Reno mostly just ends up running around naked from the waist down most of the time, like a lot of other walking-not-talking children that I’ve seen.   Sanitation generally takes the form of cleaning up whatever goes down after the fact, which is pretty easy on the concrete floors of the hut, and I guess trying to teach potty training later.  This can become problematic though–I once watched baby Reno cry, stop, run around, pee on the floor, cackle gleefully, run around in circles for another minute, then slip on his own urine, fall, and begin to cry, and loud.  After a long day of listening to Reno cry for what seemed like 14 hours straight at uneven intervals and for no particular reason, this was a difficult episode for me to process in any kind of a sane way, and gave me a lot of respect for all the parents and child workers out there who live with kids this age day in and day out.

One of the people most responsible for Reno, as well as a lot of other stuff around the house, is Bibi, Ame’s second wife.   Bibi also offered to help me roast the coffee beans I brought back from Waerabo.  She is very quiet, but very friendly, and really takes care of me with food and laundry, etc.

Roasting coffee was a very cool experience.  I doubt that many people I know have ever seen coffee beans roasted over an open fire, but the entire kitchen ends up getting filled with smoke and smelling like an espresso.

Unroasted beans from Waerabo

You start with your standard beans, which like roasted beans are hard, but don’t really have a particular smell or flavor.  The real character of coffee gets brought out through the roasting process: we dumped my half a kilogram or so of beans into a big cast-iron fryer and threw it over the flames.

It’s imporant to keep stirring the beans, since you don’t want them to get too burnt, and we ended up having to stir mine for about an hour.   Gradually, they turned the color of what I would recognize as prepared coffee beans, and began to give off a really powerful coffee smell.

Finally, when the beans were ready, we spread them out on a woven basket to cool.


The only thing left to prepare for my trip back to the States was the cinnamon, or “kayu manis”, I had brought back from Waerabo.  In its current long and smelly form, it’s pretty unlikely they would let me take it through customs, so Yeremias and Ame helped me break it up into smaller pieces and seal it in plastic bags.

Cinnamon starts out in pieces like this, or longer:

A lot of the pieces are stashed inside of one another. Ame and Yeremias helped me break all of these sticks down into smaller, more manageable bits.

The result?  One kilogram each of processed coffee and cinammon, ready to be carried back to the US.  I just hope the smell comes out of my clothes.

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Journey to Waerabo: Part 5

The following morning, we woke up early and ate breakfast in order to get a head start on the rain that typically sweeps through in the afternoon.  I thanked my hosts and paid them, and then received my brand new packets of both fresh, long-stick cinammon (“kayu manis”) and unroasted coffee (“kopi”).   Having never spent much time around big quantities of either of those two substances in their unprocessed forms, I was kind of amazed at how pungent they both were, especially the cinnamon.  It’s actually really tasty if you just chew it straight; kayu manis means “sweet wood”, I’m pretty sure, which would be a pretty good description of what raw cinnamon looks, feels and tastes like.

The hike down the mountain back to Franz’ place was pretty straightforward; we banged it out in like two and a half hours, whereas the trek in took about three and a half.  Downhill makes a difference.  When we got home, I had a chance to lay out all the new booty and dry my clothes off.

I’d wait until Tado to break these things down further.  Not a huge deal, but the cinnamon and coffee would continue to stink up my luggage for the next two weeks or so.  Unbelievably high quality stuff though, and really cool to see where it comes from.  I’d also wait to take a shower; apparently there’s either a shortage of good water where Franz lives, and I knew I’d be getting kind of grim on the bus tomorrow anyways so I decided to hold off.   Still could’ve used a shave though:

Eddy, Adol and I packed up and thanked/paid our host Franz.  We then left on Monday morning really really early for Pusut, and 7 painful hours later were back at home.

Overall, my experience in Waerabo, although a little unexpected in terms of the $$ outlay, was fun and really informative.  It gave me a sense of what a “successful” ecotourism venture looked like, and served as a backdrop against which to compare Tado’s “program”, or lack thereof.  My main takeaway was that what Waerabo lost in inaccessibility and inconvenience it gained in ambiance and incredible cultural artifcacts prominantly on display.  This was true almost to a fault I think, since once I arrived at the village I’m not quite sure they knew what to do with me, except ask me to pay for being there.  The scenery’s so amazing that I was happy to do that, but next time I would definitely want to bring someone else, and I would definitely want to take my own car.

Food for thought.

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Journey to Waerabo: Part 4

Before dinner, I had been approached by my hosts to ask about the arrangements for a traditional singing exhibition.  It seemed like I didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter; traditional singing is something which is done for virtually every tourist that comes up to Waerabo.  It doesn’t come too cheaply either; from what I heard,  200,000 Rp is the standard going rate.  However, since I was by myself, and not in a large group, and because I had already asked about buying some coffee and cinnamon to take back with me.  We finally agreed that 100,000 Rp for the singing, plus 150,000 for lodging and food, and 50,000 for the coffee/cinnamon made it a nice even 300,000 Rp.   Not cheap, but given the location and the uniqueness of the experience, not that expensive either.

At least not by my standards; of course, I couldn’t help but feel like Eddy, Adol, Franz, and the rest of the gang at Waerabo were actually making out like bandits considering the amount of effort they seemed to be putting into engaging me or showing me around (remember, as a paying tourist, I felt liscensed to complain…I wanna be entertained, dammit!), which was pretty minimal.

While I was waiting for things to start, I got a chance to take a look at the guest book, which was a pretty standard pen and paper setup.  I took a quick tally, and it seemed that from 1994-2007 only a few tourists would make it up to Waerabo every year.  After that, however, the numbers started bumping up towards the hundreds, and growing every year.  When I asked Franz why this was, he mentioned that the community’s staff had somehow gotten exposure through a UNESCO conference of some kind.   After that the volume of tourists increased dramatically, and at this stage in the game the community I think is trying to figure out how to deal with this sort of volume, especially if it keeps going up the way it has.

Pretty soon a lantern was lit, and four men brought percussion instruments out and began their ritual of singing.

Of course, since I don’t speak any Manggarai, I couldn’t even begin to understand what any of the songs about, but I was surprised to learn that my friend Eddy, who grew up speaking Western Manggarai, also couldn’t understand it.  He told me it was a dialect, and although he could make out some of the words, he had to ask the singers when each song was over exactly what they had been singing about.

Mostly the songs concerned rituals surrounding village life, such as welcoming a newcomer or stories about young men trying to win a wife with few buffalo (which seems like a common problem around here).

The guys sang three songs, taking a break in between to explain the meanings of the songs to me and my two friends.  Adol throughout was fascinated, he himself being Tado’s resident Manggarai song expert, and at times he would join in with the singers in the chorus if he knew the lyrics.   The last song, though, was a very, very old song, and when Eddy asked what it was about, the lead singer replied that the song was too magic to even bother try translating (which I think is pretty cool).    Many Manggarai communities, after all, only completely converted to Catholicism in the oldest present generation, so many of the old beliefs are within living memory.  Take a listen:

After that, it was time for bed.  I had a little trouble falling asleep, and so was awake when the rats (big ones) came out to inspect the kitchen and sleeping area.  They seemed to stay away from my side of the hut though, so I was happy, and fell asleep pretty soon afterwards.

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